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Archives for November, 2008

Pieces, Closures, Stitches: Details from 19th Century Silk Yose Juban or Aigi

November 30, 2008

All of the detail photos shown below are taken from the backs of 19th century piece constructed silk under-kimono, which are called either juban or aigi.

The term yose refers to something being pieced together.   The skill at hand stitching  shown in these photos is extraordinary if you consider how the pieces join in perfectly straight lines and are detailed in very tight angles.  Just look.

Keep in mind that the dyes used to color these silks are botanical: oranges are reds are from safflower or benibana, purples are from gromwell root or shikon, blues and greens are derived from indigo or ai.

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Three Gorgeous Boro Aprons and Two Wonderful “Horn Bags”

November 25, 2008

I’m showing three boro aprons and two tsunobukuro, or “horn” bags; tsunobukuro are referred to by this name because the top of the bags have two points, or so-called “horns.”

The two aprons on the bottom of the photo above are made of indigo dyed hemp; the top apron is made of a variety of indigo dyed cotton kasuri cloth which has been beautifully and crudely stitched together.

This magnificently and richly patched boro apron is a marvel, and it is one of my favorite pieces here at Sri.  It is made entirely of small fragments of indigo dyed hemp cloth, most of which are koshi, or checked.  The layers of cloth and the radically crude stitching–not to mention the color–add up to make this a jewel of a boro textile.  Hard to dispute.

Imagine that the textures of this apron are very much that of hemp cloth; most likely these fragments are from the nineteenth century.  The stitching–which is eccentric, intense and all-over–is done with white cotton thread.

This is an unusual tsunobukuro because it is made of katazome dyed hemp cloth: very often tsunobukuro are made of undyed hemp.  This one has been dyed in the stencil resist, katazome method.  This bag comes to us from Nambu, in the very remote Aomori Prefecture, the northernmost area on Honshu island.

The inside of the bag is shown in order to highlight the beautiful patches and stitching.

Tsunobukuro are made from one length of cloth that has been twisted and sewn on the bias.  Most likely, tsunobukuro were used for storage.

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A Bashofu Child’s Kimono: Banana Fiber from Okinawa

November 21, 2008

Bashofu, or cloth woven from yarn obtained from fibers of the leaf bases of the Musa balbisiana, a variety of banana tree, is the cultural signifier of the people of Okinawa, both internally and from abroad.  Bashofu in varying grades was worn by everyone in Okinawa since the sixteenth century, from the impoverished who would wear garments of bashofu rags to the ruling class who would wear kimono of the rarest quality, woven with the most extravagant patterns.  Although Musa balbisiana is not native to Okinawa, its cloth is now synonymous with the Okinawan archipelago.

Bashofu is a highly collectible cloth and it is extremely distinctive in appearance and texture.  Because it is woven from fibers taken from leaves, it is not considered a bast fiber like hemp, ramie or wisteria, but rather it is thought of as a leaf fiber.

This is a child’s kimono, with modified, semi-“Western” sleeves; note that the shoulders are darted and the waistline is tacked up: this is due to two factors: the standard loom width is too wide for a child’s shoulders and therefore they are modified without cutting the cloth; likewise, the length is drawn up so as the child grows the length can adjusted, again, without cutting precious cloth.  The closure for this small kimono is made from two long white cotton pieces which was tied as a kind of sash.

This bashofu child’s kimono is dyed in the kasuri or ikat method which produces the repeat pattern seen on this small, gorgeous thing.  This is a warp kasuri, meaning only the “vertical” threads are dyed.

Getting into the kasuri (ikat) traditions of Okinawa and their impact on the development of Japanese kasuri weaving is a vouminous study–too complex to get into here–but suffice it to say that for centuries the mainland Japanese admired Okinawan cloth. The Japanese ikat weaving was directly affected by Okinawan patterns and concepts, especially as adapted by the asa weaving traditions of omi jofu and echigo jofu.

To this day, the Japanese admiration of Okinawan textile traditions is unabated, and for centuries Japan has borrowed much from the weavers of Okinawa.

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A Thick, Layered and Patched Kotatsugake with Intensely Tight Sashiko Stitching

November 18, 2008

A kotatsu is a kind of brazier that was centrally placed in the Japanese house; in the olden days, it was the only source of heat in Japanese homes.  To provide direct heat and comfort, an armature would be placed over the brazier and a blanket, or kotatsugake, would be placed over this heater and family members would sit around the brazier with their lower bodies tucked under the kotatsugake.  Kotatsugake are still very much a part of Japanese society these days, however now they are electric and thus there is no need for the kotatsu.

This fabulous kotatsugake is wildly rich with sashiko stitches and large, cotton patches.  The thing itself is sewn from many layers of recycled cotton clothing; it is quite heavy.  Note the wonderful, oversized, resist dyed plum blossom that dominates the top, center of the kotatsugake.

Unusual is the change of direction of the rows of sashiko stitching: notice the ‘mitered’ corner effect created by two converging directions of sashiko.

The size of this kotatsugake is  61″ x 53″, 155 cm x 135 cm, which is a fairly standard size.  Sakiori ‘rugs’ were, in fact, kotatsugake, not rugs, however it is more convenient to refer to them as rugs since this has become their current function, especially in Western interiors.

The reverse side of this piece is equally beautiful to the side discussed above.  I’m thrilled to have this piece, which I think is a superb example of a sashiko stitched kotatsugake.

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A Beautiful 18th Century Silk Kesa

November 13, 2008

From my last trip to Japan–I returned to New York about two weeks ago–I brought back this wonderful, silk brocade, late eighteenth century kesa: a kesa is a Buddhist priest’s garment, whose origin is the ragged, mendicant garb worn by the historical Buddha and his disciples.  As is popular knowledge, the Buddha renounced worldly things and begged for food to survive; his clothing, too, reflected his renunciation of the world.

As you can see from this kesa, Buddhism flourished and changed as time went on, and so did the “original” kesa, whose name is derived from the Sanskrit, kashaya, which means, to some extent, ‘colorless.’  It is a self-effacing word.  Latter day kesas from  China, Korea and Japan, were hardly self-effacing: ragged kesas were transformed into regal garments of prestige and power–and were made of the finest cloth, usually luxurious, silk brocades.  They were still, however, stitched from pieces of cloth, albeit golden silks of the highest quality.

Of the many things that I like about this particular kesa, chief among them is its eccentricity–look at the unusual combination of cloth and the mixture of the scale of pattern across the surface of this garment.  Often, silk kesa are beautifully symmetrical and emit an air of inapproachability, probably owing something to the sanctity of ceremony and ritual to which they attend.

This kesa, on the other hand, has charm; it has wear; it seems to have belonged to a small temple in a small city; it has a kind of home made look and lacks the ulta-sophistication of a rich “city” kesa: note the combination of many different kinds of silks; it even seems that some of the end pieces from the bolt of brocade are used to make this gorgeous thing (I’m referring to the fragments of cloth that are made of multi-colored, stacked rectangles).

The border pieces show roundels that depict a stylized phoenix, a sacred Buddhist symbol brought to Japan from China.  Most likely the luxurious cloth used to make this kesa was donated to the temple by the congregation or by a rich donor family.

The kesa is meant to be sewn in a meditative way using specific stitches and imbued with good intentions. The act of sewing a kesa was thus considered a devotional pursuit. Receiving the kesa, because it symbolized Buddhist teaching, was an important part of the ordination ceremony for a Buddhist priest.

I’ve listed this kesa on my site this week, so have a look at the entry there to learn a bit more about this one.  My other site entries on kesa are here, and if you follow that link, you’ll find a bit more information on these beautiful, antique garments.

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Two Lahariya “Tie Dyed” Indian Turbans, a Sindhi Ralli and an Afghani Embroidered Bag

November 11, 2008

How about a blast of saturated, bright color today?  Here are two lahariya turbans: lahariya is a kind of wrap resist (or tie-dye or shibori) dyeing process, usually resulting in ‘wavy’ stripes or zigzags.  Lahariya dyeing is the province of Jaipur, India and these two examples are done of gossamer-thin cotton muslin and probably date to the middle of the last century.  The book “Tie-dyed Textiles of India: Tradition and Trade” published by the Victoria and Albert Museum shows many examples of lahariya turbans.  I’ve shown similar examples on my website, here.

The small, envelope-shaped embroidered cotton bag is from Afghanistan and is lined in a kind of block print cotton, whose curved and floral print is a wonderful contrast to the intricate, interlocking geometries of the counted thread embroidery of the exterior.

And please note the gorgeous textile which these others sit on; this is a ralli, or a heavily layered and stitched quilt which comes from the area called Sindh, which now extends across the border between Gujarat/Rajasthan/Punjab, India and Pakistan.  I love this ralli for its wear: note the abrasion to the surface of the quilt which reveals the multi-colored layers beneath. 

Rallis can be made from left over cloth, and they can assume a variety of forms, from bedcovers to cushion covers, to saddle blankets and the like.  The word ralli comes from the local word ralanna, which means to connect or to mix.  I have some really nice rallis on my website, and in time, I will be offering for sale on my website all the textiles shown here on this post–  feel free to e mail me if you’re interested.

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A Rare and Beautiful Boro Okuso Kimono: Woven from Hemp “Waste”

November 8, 2008

It’s been gloomy and grey here for days. This photo was shot midday, believe it or not: it looks like night time.  I wanted to write a new post, and I wanted to show this incredible okuso kimono, possibly my favorite Japanese country textile here at Sri, so I decided to go ahead and work with the poor light.

Kuso or Okuso is waste or garbage.   In this case, it refers to the waste created in the production of hemp yarn: this kimono was woven from the detritus and crude materials left over from hemp yarn making.   This waste, or okuso, was spun into yarn and woven by rural people to make their garments.   Most likely the better quality yarn they created from hemp plants was sold to those that could afford it, probably urbanites.

Okuso garments these days are extremely hard to find.  This is the only boro okusozakkuri that I have seen, and what is amazing about it is its light blue colored patches and detailing.  The name of this pale blue indigo is referred to as asagi in Japanese.  Asagi is an important word to know if you are serious about Japanese folk textiles as it comes up a lot.  What’s even better about these asagi patches is that some of them are katazome, or stencil resist cloth, and in this case, the fact that these katazome patches are of asagi on white, this is makes it even more special: katazome cloth is more commonly white on blue.

Okuso garments are very much discussed and pictured in the fabulous book “Riches from Rags: Saki-ori &” Other Recycling Traditions in Japanese Rural Clothing.  Here at Sri I am extremely lucky to have two other okuso garments, you can see one here, but this is my favorite, both from the standpoint of rarity and aesthetics.


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A Wall of Boro Sakabukuro or Mended Sake Straining Bags

November 7, 2008

This is a huge pieced area of sakabukuro, twelve flayed bags have been sewn together to create a large, single textile measuring 84″ x 67″/ 213.5 cm x 170 cm.  Sakabukuro are bags made of cotton which are saturated in green persimmon tannin or kaki shibu. In the process of making sake, these bags would be filled with sake lees or crude sake; these filled bags would then be subjected to pressure and filtered sake would be forced out.  Sakabukuro are collectible items both in Japan and in the West.

The pressure from repeated use would tear the bags and would necessitate patching and mending.  I’m not sure why so many bags were joined together to create such a large textile, but clearly it was useful somehow: perphaps a floor covering?

Mendings on sakabukuro are fantastic, some of the most interesting in the field of boro textiles.


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A Gorgeous Nineteenth Century Katazome Noren

November 3, 2008

This is an indigo dyed cotton noren, a noren being a kind of doorway covering; it dates to the mid-to-late nineteenth century.   I found this gorgeous thing on my recent trip to Japan and I couldn’t resist buying it because of its startling graphic appeal and the beautiful tones of steel blue against an unbleached cotton.

The pattern shown on the noren is a very commonly used Japanese motif, it is stylized pine bark or matsu kawabishi.  On this recent trip to Japan I spent a lot of time looking at beautifully cultivated and cared-for pine trees that grace gardens, temples and public spaces.  On some of the very old, craggy trees, the bark is extremely thick and has cracked into formations very similar to the chevron-like matsu kawabishi.

The repeat pattern is imprinted using a stencil dye resist method: rice paste is applied through a stencil onto cloth.  Where the rice paste is applied, dye is resisted.  This process is called katazome, and the stencils, katagami, very collectible unto themselves, are the product of artisans who hand-cut mulberry paper which has been saturated with green persimmon tannin called kaki shibu. A huge percentage of katagami production is centered in Ise in Japan, and therefore, katagami are often referred to as Ise katagami.

This fabulous noren is available on my website, so please do have a look.

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